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HOCKEY: Jaguars aim to hold on to stars
WHEN three Bury hockey clubs became one in the summer the aim was to prevent the town’s upwardly mobile players leaving to join the “Cheshire set”.
Bury HC, Elton Ladies and the junior set up, Bury Jaguars, came together in the summer with the intention of providing the continuity needed to help youngsters develop into good adult players and stick around.
The lure of the bigger clubs like Brooklands, Alderley Edge, and Timperley will always be there but for Bury Hockey Club goalkeeper and chairman of the Jaguars, Johnny Howard, the merger was key to the progress of the game in and around the town.
His six teams – boys and girls at under-11s, u13s and 15s – have just benefited from a £500 sponsorship award from the Bury Times and they have invested the money in new playing kit for all the youngsters.
The new Bury club is now based at Castlebrook High School where training takes place on Friday evenings and they have also linked up with nearby Unsworth Cricket Club in Pole Lane for social events and meetings.
“It was important we developed a feeder link to men’s hockey,” said Howard. “We need to keep the kids involved for as long as possible.
“In the past, they often went to play for other clubs where the standard is much higher and you have to accept that will happen.
“But our aim to prevent the fall-off of players as they progress through the age groups.”
While the Cheshire teams present a significant attraction for any aspiring international players, Bury’s first team can also boast four consecutive promotions and divisional titles culminating in their current status in the North West Men’s League Division Four.
The juniors play a more condensed, smaller scale seven-a-side game and play in the Greater Manchester Junior Hockey League.
“Last season, the u15s boys and girls both finished third,” said Howard. “We were pleased with our results, bearing in mind some of our better players were unvavailable because they were involved at county level or in regional competitions.
“It helps that our standard is improving and we are attracting more people to the club and the game. We’ve got good players in the right positions and we have carried out a lot of junior development.
“But we have been and always will be an inclusive club – hockey for all. Every single child or person who comes down can get involved. We don’t want to exclude anybody because we want to retain them for as long as possible.”
According to Howard, the principles of the game are fairly easy for beginners to grasp.
“The positional sense is very similare to football or netball,” he said. “They usually know where to stand or run, it’s just a case of them getting used to using the stick.
“When people first come, the use the back of the stick - which is illegal - straight away. You are only allowed to use the flat side of the stick. Of course, the higher the level you go, there is more skill involved with the stick and, of course, fitness.”
So far, the three-way merger is progressing well for Bury Hockey Club.
“We set up a committee that has representatives from all three clubs on it,” said Howard. “Everything we do, we have to agree on it to make sure it’s in the interests of the whole club, and it’s working well.
“Pretty much all our coaches have been players here from when they started, or parents. My wife, Sarah, is a member of the ladies’ section, and arranged out application for the Bury Times money and ordered the kit. It’s very much a family club, and we’re hoping it remains that way.”
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